Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut has thrown down the gauntlet, announcing that if health-care reform includes a so-called “public option,” he would support a Republican filibuster to block a vote on the proposal.
As Lieberman told Politico:
“My answer is – we’re – we have the opportunity to do some great reforms here. These exchanges that we’re talking about, I think, are going to drive competition and probably bring the cost of health insurance down or at least contain the cost increases for a lot of people. Let’s give that two or three years to see how it works to see how it works before we talk about creating another entitlement that will end up increasing the national debt and putting more of a burden on taxpayers.”
That statement reveals a gross misunderstanding of the public option and how it would operate. It further suggests that Lieberman’s misgivings are not substantive but political in nature.
Under the Senate proposal, a publicly run entity would compete for health-insurance business against privately run plans. The public option would be cost-neutral — the same subsidies available to help lower-income people pay for public-option coverage would be available anyway to pay for private coverage. There’s no increase in cost.
Furthermore, the public option would have to finance its operations and benefit payments exclusively through premiums paid by its customers, just as private plans do. Its operations could not be subsidized by taxpayers. Again, there’s no additional cost to the government.
Given that structure, it is difficult to understand Lieberman’s complaint that a public option would create an expensive new entitlement. The public option would be self-sustaining, and by almost every nonpartisan analysis would probably lower the net cost to taxpayers.
So what’s Joe’s REAL problem with the proposal?